The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employee Guarantee Scheme is an Indian labour law and social security measure that aims to guarantee the ‘right to work’. It has generated more rural employment than any other government scheme or private initiative in the history of independent India. At the same time, it has also generated a great deal of controversy over its merits and demerits.


[pib] Bhuvan Yuktdhara Portal


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Bhuvan Yuktdhara Portal

Mains level : MGNREGA

A new portal under Bhuvan “Yuktdhara” has been released to facilitate planning of new MGNREGA assets using Remote Sensing and GIS based information.

Bhuvan Yuktdhara Portal

  • Yuktdhara is a geospatial planning portal meant for facilitating Gram Panchayat level planning of MGNREGA activities across India.
  • Portal integrates a wide variety of spatial information contents to enable a holistic approach towards planning using open-source GIS tool.
  • Subsequent to pan Indian initiative of geo-tagging assets created under Mahatma Gandhi NREGA, harnessing the strength of GIS for identifying upcoming activities and their locations was a natural corollary.

Features of the portal

  • The current level of integration under Yuktdhara, as part of Bhuvan, incorporates multi-temporal IRS satellite data of better than 3M detail in natural color, digital terrain, thematic layers as wed as locations of MGNREGA works and watershed management assets.
  • The interface currently has a Gram Panchayat-specific logo to address planning as well as approval mechanisms intended to ensure the evaluation and acceptance of proposed activities.
  • This will be enhanced for other levels of users gradually.
  • Access for other Gram Panchayat will be facilitated at the earliest, by addressing the case multiple logins created for geotagging and moderation.

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Back2Basics: MGNREG Scheme

  • The MGNREGA stands for Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act of 2005.
  • This is labour law and social security measure that aims to guarantee the ‘Right to Work’.
  • The act was first proposed in 1991 by P.V. Narasimha Rao.

The objectives of the MGNREGA are:

  • To enhance the livelihood security of the rural poor by generating wage employment opportunities.
  • To create a rural asset base that would enhance productive ways of employment, augment and sustain a rural household income.

Features of the program

  • MGNREGA is unique in not only ensuring at least 100 days of employment to the willing unskilled workers, but also in ensuring an enforceable commitment on the implementing machinery i.e., the State Governments, and providing a bargaining power to the labourers.
  • The failure of provision for employment within 15 days of the receipt of job application from a prospective household will result in the payment of unemployment allowance to the job seekers.
  • Employment is to be provided within 5 km of an applicant’s residence, and minimum wages are to be paid.
  • Thus, employment under MGNREGA is a legal entitlement.


In news: Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : MGNREGA, Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan

Mains level : MGNREGA, Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan

  • One-third of the way through the financial year, government data shows that the MGNREGA scheme has used up almost half its allocated funds.
  • Its spending has been more than ₹48,500 crores out of the expanded ₹1 lakh crore allocations announced following the COVID-19 outbreak.

Try this question for mains:

Q.Discuss how the MGNREG Scheme has been providing a minimum basic income since the Covid pandemic. Also discuss how it can prove to be a game-changer if coupled with Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT).


  • The MGNREGA stands for Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act of 2005.
  • This is labour law and social security measure that aims to guarantee the ‘Right to Work’.
  • The act was first proposed in 1991 by P.V. Narasimha Rao.

Its objectives

  • To enhance the livelihood security of the rural poor by generating wage employment opportunities.
  • To create a rural asset base which would enhance productive ways of employment, augment and sustain a rural household income.

Features of the Scheme

  • MGNREGA is unique in not only ensuring at least 100 days of employment to the willing unskilled workers, but also in ensuring an enforceable commitment on the implementing machinery i.e., the State Governments, and providing a bargaining power to the labourers.
  • The failure of provision for employment within 15 days of the receipt of job application from a prospective household will result in the payment of unemployment allowance to the job seekers.
  • Employment is to be provided within 5 km of an applicant’s residence, and minimum wages are to be paid.
  • Thus, employment under MGNREGA is a legal entitlement.

Also read:

[Burning Issue] Reorienting MGNREGA in times of COVID


Safety net of income post Covid


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : MGNREGA

Mains level : Paper 3- Minimum income and issues

Providing a minimum basic income post-Covid will require some novel approach. This article proposes an approach with the mix of direct cash transfer and changes in the employment guarantee scheme.

Non-universal targeted programs

  •  It is true that a universal schemes are easy to implement.
  • Non-universal targeted programmes face the problem of identification.
  • Narrowly-targeted programmes will run into complex problems of identification.
  • And the problem of identification gives rise to exclusion and inclusion errors.

How to solve identification problem

  • There are three proposals which meet the objective of providing a minimum basic income.
  • 1) Give cash transfers to all women above the age of 20 years.
  • 2) Expand the number of days provided under MGNREGA.
  • 3) Have a national employment guarantee scheme in urban areas.
  • In all the three proposals, there is no problem of identification.
  • A combination of cash transfers and an expanded employment guarantee scheme can provide a minimum basic income.

1) Cash transfer to all women

  • One way of doing it will be to give it to all women say above the age of 20.
  • This is an easily identifiable criterion because the Aadhaar cards carry the age of the person.
  • The female population above the age of 20 is around 42.89 crore.
  • Making available a minimum of Rs 4,000 annually as a cash transfer to all of them will cost Rs 1.72 lakh crore.
  • Which is 0.84 per cent of GDP.
  • The cost of the scheme to the government will be less if the well-off women choose not to take the cash transfer.

2) Expanding MGNREGA

  • The Act guarantees 100 days of employment.
  • At present, MGNREGA is availed of only for 50 days of employment.
  • One way to help the poor and informal workers is to strengthen it.
  • The government needs to increase the number of days under the scheme from 100 to 150 in rural areas.

3) Employment guarantee scheme for urban areas

  •  Introducing Employment Guarantee Act in urban areas would help also provide income.
  • Providing employment for 150 days instead of 100 days will also prove beneficial.

Some facts and figures

  • In 2019-20, the government spent Rs 67,873 crore for providing 48 days of employment to 5.48 crore of rural households.
  • Out of this, the wage expenditure was Rs 48,762 crore.
  • The government has increased the per day wage rate from Rs 182.1 in 2019-20 to Rs 202.5 in 2020-21.
  • So, the estimated expenditure for 150 days of employment to 5.48 crore households in rural areas and 2.66 crore households in urban areas — together they account for 33 per cent of total households in the country.
  •  The additional expenditure needed for the new proposal proposal is Rs 1.9 to 2.5 lakh crore.
  • This additional expenditure is around 1 to 1.22 per cent of GDP.
  •  The total cost of the three proposals would be Rs 4.9 lakh crore or 2.4 per cent of GDP.

But the total cost could be lower

  •  As the Employment Guarantee Programme is a demand-based programme, the number of days availed could be lower.
  •  This is happening even now.
  • Second, on cash transfers, some women, particularly from richer classes, may voluntarily drop out of the scheme.
  • Alternatively, we can provide that everyone receiving cash transfer must declare that her total monthly income is less than Rs 6,000 per month.

Where the additional money will come from

  • Removing all exemptions in our tax system would give enough money.
  • Tax experts advocate removing exemptions so that the basic tax rate can be reduced.
  • Perhaps, out of the Rs 4.2 lakh crore which is needed, Rs 1 lakh crore can come out of phasing out of some of the expenditures.
  • While another Rs 3 lakh crore must come out of raising additional revenue.
  • Some of the non-merit subsidies, another item of expenditure, can be eliminated.

Consider the question “What are the issues non-universal schemes faces? Suggest the ways to do with the issue of identification which such schemes face.”


In the post-COVID-19 situation, we need to institute schemes to provide a minimum income for the poor and vulnerable groups and trying the mixed approach of cash transfer to women and modification of Employment Guarantee Acts could do that.


Ensuring MGNREGA lives up to its potential


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Provisions of MGNREGA

Mains level : Paper 2- Issues and scope for improvement in MGNREGA

With migrant workers returning home, work demand under MGNREGA is bound to rise. Sensing that the government increased the allocation to MGNREGA. This article suggests some steps to make the MGNREGA more effective in catering to this surge in the wake of the pandemic. Some issues that plague the scheme are also examined at the end. So, what are the suggestion? and what are the issues? Read to know….

Acknowledgement of the importance of MGNREGA

  • The government made an allocation of an additional Rs 40,000 crore as part of the stimulus package.
  • This is an acknowledgement of the importance of MGNREGA.
  • The most important part of MGNREGA’s design is its legally-backed guarantee for any rural adult to get work within 15 days of demanding it.
  • This demand-based trigger enables the self-selection of workers and gives them an assurance of at least 100 days of wage employment.

Let’s put allocation in context of World Bank recommendations

  • Since 2012, an average of 18 per cent of the annual budgetary allocation for MGNREGA has been spent on clearing pending liabilities from the previous years.
  • Even this financial year began with pending wage and material liabilities of Rs 16,045 crore.
  • An allocation of Rs 1 lakh crore for FY 2020-21 would mean that approximately Rs 84,000 crore is available for employment generation this year.
  • This will still be the highest allocation for MGNREGA in any year since the passage of the law.
  • However, the allocation, which amounts to 0.47 per cent of the GDP continues to be much lower than the World Bank recommendations of 1.7 per cent for the optimal functioning of the programme.

Some immediate steps to ensure the MGNREGA lives up to its potential

  • First, state governments must ensure that public works are opened in every village.
  • Workers turning up at the worksite should be provided work immediately, without imposing on them the requirement of demanding work in advance.
  • Second, local bodies must proactively reach out to returned and quarantined migrant workers and help those in need to get job cards.
  • Third, at the worksite, adequate facilities such as soap, water, and masks for workers must be provided free of cost. For reasons of health safety, MGNREGA tools should not be shared between workers.
  • The government should provide a tool allowance to all workers — some states are already providing such an allowance.
  • Fourth, procedures for implementing MGNREGA must be simplified but not diluted.
  • The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of decentralised governance.
  • Gram panchayats and elected representatives need to be provided with adequate resources, powers, and responsibilities to sanction works, provide work on demand, and authorise wage payments to ensure there are no delays in payments.
  • Fifth, as per a study by the RBI, more than half the districts in the country are under-banked.
  • The density of bank branches in rural India is even more sparse.
  • At this time, payments need to not only reach bank accounts on time, but cash needs to reach the workers easily and efficiently.
  • The limited coverage of bank infrastructure in rural areas must not be made a hurdle.
  • Attempts to distribute wages in cash, sans biometric authentication, must be rolled out.
  • Sixth, there needs to be flexibility in the kinds of work to be undertaken, while ensuring that the community and the workers are the primary beneficiaries.

Issuse with MGNREGA

  • Over the last few years, MGNREGA had begun to face an existential crisis.
  • Successive governments capped its financial resources, and turning it into a supply-based programme.
  • Workers had begun to lose interest in working under it because of the inordinate delays in wage payments.
  • With very little autonomy, gram panchayats had begun to find implementation cumbersome.
  • Barring a few exceptions, state governments were only interested in running the programme to the extent funds were made available from the Centre.
  • Allocating work on demand, and not having enough funds to pay wages on time was bound to cause great distress amongst the workers and eventually for the state too.
  • As a result, state governments had begun to implement MGNREGA like a supply-driven scheme, instead of running it like a demand-based guarantee backed by law.

Consider the question “With migrant workers returning to villages in the wake of corona pandemic, demand for work is likely to increase. In light of this, discuss the utility of MGNREGA and challenges it may face.”


With nearly eight crore migrant workers returning to their villages, and with an additional allocation for the year, this could be a moment for the true revival of MGNREGA. A revival led by workers themselves.

Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005

  • The Act aims at enhancing the livelihood security of people in rural areas by guaranteeing hundred days of wage employment in a financial year to a rural household whose adult members (at least 18 years of age) volunteer to do unskilled work.
  • The central government bears the full cost of unskilled labour, and 75% of the cost of material (the rest is borne by the states).
  • It is a demand-driven, social security and labour law that aims to enforce the ‘right to work’.
  • Ministry of Rural Development (MRD), Government of India in association with state governments, monitors the implementation of the scheme.


[op-ed snap] The NREGA signal


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Youth on MNREGA shows the distress in economy


As per a paper released recently, the proportion of young workers, those in the age group of 18-30, in the MGNREGA scheme, has begun to rise, especially after 2017-18, when the economy was hit first by demonetisation and later by the implementation of the GST.

What the report says

  • The number of young workers employed under rose to 70.71 lakh in 2018-19 — up from 58.69 lakh in FY18.
  • This aleo seems to be on an upward trajectory this year also, with 57.57 lakh having been employed upto October 21 this year.

Bad news

  • Contraction of factory output by 1.1% in August compared to the past year.
  • The sharp decline in commercial credit in the year till September.
  • Among such gloomy indicators, fresh signs of the deepening slowdown are visible.

What this data reflects

  • MGNREGA is a scheme targeted at the hinterland, aiming to provide 100 days of work to each rural household. 
  • It is clearly a reflection of the little or limited opportunities for young people in rural India to venture out to bigger towns or cities given the slump in construction, real estate and manufacturing and the informal sector besides services, especially the hospitality business.
  • The warning signs were evident earlier when the demand for work under the MGNREGA rose almost 10% compared to the previous year.
  • This shows the mounting rural distress and low farm support prices.

Issue with MNREGA

  • The government pegged the allocation for this scheme for FY20 at Rs 60,000 crore.
  • This is a marginal decline compared to the revised estimates for the last fiscal.
  • A minister said that the government did not want MGNREGA to be a programme in perpetuity.

Way ahead

  • Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee had recently pointed to a worrying factor — average consumption expenditure at 2018 prices had fallen from Rs 1,587 per person each month in 2014 to Rs 1,524 in 2017-18 in rural areas, according to NSSO data. 
  • Banerjee has suggested raising wages under MGNREGA and farm support prices.


[op-ed snap] The minimum wage solution


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Minimum wage & Inequalities


The government made two recent announcements to mitigate the economic crisis. 


  • One is a new indexation of NREGA wages to increase rural incomes. 
  • Second is a reduction in the corporate tax rate.

Indexation of wages

  • Prices of commodities increase each year.
  • So it’s important to accurately estimate how much NREGA labourers should earn in 2020 if she earned ₹179 (national daily average NREGA wage) in 2019.
  • This needs a good index to benchmark and revises the wages. 
  • The index must be based on the main items of consumption for rural households
  • NREGA daily wages are to be indexed with an updated inflation index called the Consumer Price Index-Rural (CPI-R) instead of the older Consumer Price Index-Agricultural Labourers(CPI-AL). 
  • The calculation of CPI-AL involved more food items in the consumption basket. Calculation of CPI-R involves more non-food items such as healthcare and education. 
  • CPI-R better reflects the rural consumption basket compared to CPI-AL.

Challenge with the indexation

  • This new indexation will have a sizeable impact on the increase in rural incomes only if the base NREGA wages are high. 
  • If we assume a 10% increase in wages due to the new indexation, then NREGA wages in Kerala at ₹271 per day would become ₹298. If NREGA wages were equal to the State minimum wages, the wages in Kerala would increase from ₹490 to about ₹540. 
  • A substantial increase in NREGA wages and subsequent indexation with CPI-R would be meaningful for the workers and the economy. 

Minimum wages

  • Barring three States/UTs, NREGA wages are still lower than the State minimum wages in violation of the law.
  • Minimum wages are neither a dole nor an act of charity. They are  arrived at by calculating the minimal nutritional requirement and basic needs of an individual. 
  • The Fair Wages Committee of the Ministry of Labour noted in a report that a “living wage” should also include education, healthcare and insurance besides the bare essentials. 
  • In Sanjit Roy v. State of Rajasthan (1983), the Supreme Court held that paying less than minimum wages is akin to “forced labour”
  • In Workmen v. Management of Raptakos Brett (1991), it said that the aforementioned provisions must be added to arrive at a moral “living wage” to ensure basic dignity of life. 
  • The current daily NREGA wages are just a quarter of the minimum daily living wage of ₹692 as outlined in the 7th Pay Commission.
  • The last annual NREGA budget is ₹60,000 crore. The budget allocation for NREGA gets exhausted by October of each financial year, leading to delays in payment of wages. These are all legal violations.
  • In circumstances of unsustainable wages, the poor would be forced to become part of the migrant labour force. 

Corporate tax cuts & Inequalities

  • The current corporate tax cut will only widen economic inequality
  • According to the Oxfam Inequality Report 2018, in one year, the wealth of the richest 1% in India grew by ₹20.91 lakh crore, which is equivalent to the 2017-18 Budget. 
  • According to estimates by CRISIL, due to the recent tax cut, 1,000 companies would have annual savings of around ₹37,000 crore
  • According to a 2015 IMF report, “if the income share of the top 20% increases, then GDP growth actually declines over the medium term, while an increase in the income share of the bottom 20% is associated with higher GDP growth.

Challenges if not matched with rural needs

  •  Corporate tax cuts and lower interest rates would give corporations some liquidity, it is unlikely that rural demand will increase.
  • Without a substantial increase in NREGA wages, the wages would barely match inflation levels leading to wage stagnation in real terms. 

Way ahead

  • It is economically prudent to substantially increase the budget for public programmes such as NREGA.  This would lead to higher disposable income for the poor and have positive multiplier effects in the economy.
  • Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen’s poignant imagery of India having pockets of California in a sea of sub-Saharan Africa is still eerily true.


[op-ed snap] How MGNREGA transformed into a monument of failure


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : MGNREGA failing due to inadequate policy measures


  • There is now a plethora of evidence that the economy has been cooling down over the last three years.
  • Official data was slow to pick up the trend, but data from private sources on indicators such as sales of consumer durables and automobiles clearly show that it is largely a result of declining demand, particularly in rural areas.
  • The Union budget presented on 5 July was expected to address some of these concerns.
  • However, it was a missed opportunity, with no effort being made to increase spending in rural areas, except for the electoral promise of cash transfer to farmers.

Effect of decline in Allocation to MGNREGA

  • Also disappointing was the government’s approach in dealing with most rural development programmes.
  • These not only directly contribute to creating rural infrastructure and assets, but also indirectly help increase rural demand and employment. For most of these programmes, the budget expenditure was kept constant or lowered.
  • Of particular importance is the all-India scheme under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
  • Its budget allocation has fallen compared to the revised expenditure of last year, and is insufficient, given the wage-payment arrears.

Weakening of MGNREGA

  • The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) showed apathy towards the rural and agricultural sectors during its first term in government, and in many ways is continuing the flawed policies of the second term of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
  • The UPA, which enacted MGNREGA and reaped political dividends for its successful rollout during its first term, contributed to the weakening of the programme as well as the changing of its basic character.
  • The government kept the budget allocation low and created administrative bottlenecks that stifled the programme. This trend has continued under the NDA.
  • This alliance also altered the basic character of the scheme.

Original Vision for MGNREGA

  • MGNREGA was envisaged as a provider of rural employment to casual workers at government-mandated minimum wages set above market wages.
  • This was the case at its 2006 launch.
  • The National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) has been tracking wages received by casual workers employed under MGNREGA and private markets since 2007-08, when it introduced a separate category for MGNREGA work.
  • This has been retained even in the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS), the report of which was released recently.
  • In 2007-08, the second year of MGNREGA implementation, wages under the programme were 5% higher than market wages for rural male workers and 58% higher for rural female workers.
  • This was one of the reasons that the programme attracted almost 50% female workers, in contrast to the trend of declining female workforce participation since 2004-05.

Changes in structure

  • By 2009-10, MGNREGA wages were only 90% of market wages for males, but 26% higher than market wages for females.
  • By 2011-12, they were lower than market wages for both category of workers, but for females, they were close to market levels.
  • The 2017-18 PLFS estimates show that private market wages for males were higher than MGNREGA wages by 74%, and female market wages were higher than MGNREGA wages by 21%.
  • Clearly, no male worker is going to demand MGNREGA work when he can get a much higher daily wage with the same effort .
  • However, women continue to demand and work under MGNREGA, though market wages are higher, because of non-availability of work and discrimination as well as exclusion from the private labour market.

Women participation more

  • A peculiar result of this is the overwhelming participation of women in MGNREGA in southern states, where casual wages are higher in general, with Kerala reporting only female workers.
  • However, many states, including Gujarat, did not report any MGNREGA work in 2017-18. Keeping MGNREGA wages significantly lower than market wages is a deliberate attempt to finish the programme.

Half of the national minimum wage

  • MGNREGA wages are less than half of the national minimum wage of 375 per day (as on July 2018) proposed by an expert group.
  • Even the Economic Survey presented on 4 July has a chapter on minimum wages, which argues in favour of keeping minimum wages at a sufficiently high level to reduce poverty and inequality.
  • At a time when the government is pushing for a minimum wage code, the largest government-run programme has been violating state minimum wages for almost a decade.
  • MGNREGA could have been the lifeline to revive the rural economy, which is in distress.

Ineffective MGNREGA at present

  • However, the political slugfest and flawed policies of the government have led to a situation where MGNREGA, bereft of its original character, is unable to provide a stimulus to the rural economy, despite the strong evidence of it having pushed up rural wages and incomes during the first five years of its implementation.
  • It also created rural infrastructure and provided much-needed employment to the country’s rural population.



[op-ed snap] The solution is universal


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of comparison of MGNREGA and PM-KISAN .

Mains level: The news-card analyses how strengthening the MGNREGA would be more prudent than a targeted cash transfer plan like PM-KISAN, in a brief manner.


  • According to several experts, strengthening the MGNREGA would be more prudent than a targeted cash transfer plan like PM-KISAN.


  • Rural distress has hit unprecedented levels.
  • According to news reports, unemployment is the highest in 45 years.

Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN)

  • To allay some misgivings of the distress, one of the announcements in the Budget speech was that vulnerable landholding farmer families, having cultivable land up to 2 hectares, will be provided direct income support at the rate of ₹ 6,000 per year.
  • This cash transfer scheme has been called Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN).
  • The Ministry of Agriculture has written to State governments to prepare a database of all eligible beneficiaries along with their Aadhaar numbers, and update land records “expeditiously”.
  • The letter further states that changes in land records after February 1, 2019 shall not be considered for this scheme.

Is PM-KISAN a reasonable solution?: Comparison with MGNREGA

  • Undoubtedly, farmers’ distress needs urgent attention but one need to analyse if the PM-KISAN is a reasonable solution.
  • Let us first compare some basic numbers with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
  1. MGNREGA earnings for a household is more than a year’s income support through PM-KISAN
  • For example, if two members of a household in Jharkhand work under MGNREGA (picture) for 30 days, they would earn ₹10,080 and a household of two in Haryana would earn ₹16,860 in 30 days.
  • Jharkhand has the lowest daily MGNREGA wage rate, and Haryana the highest.
  • Put simply, a month of MGNREGA earnings for a household is more than a year’s income support through PM-KISAN anywhere in the country.

2. MGNREGA is a universal programme

  • PM-KISAN is a targeted cash transfer programme and MGNREGA is a universal programme.
  • Any rural household willing to do manual work is eligible under the Act.
  • According to the 2011 Socio-Economic and Caste Census, around 40% of rural households are landless and depend on manual labour.
  • The landless can earn through the MGNREGA but are not eligible for the PM-KISAN scheme.
  • Notwithstanding the meagre amount, the PM-KISAN might be pitting the landless against a small farmer.

Other factors that strengthen the case for an existing universal programme

  • It is unclear how tenant farmers, those without titles, and women farmers would be within the ambit of the PM-KISAN scheme.
  • There is also substantial evidence to demonstrate that universal schemes are less prone to corruption than targeted schemes.
  • In targeted programmes, it is very common to have errors of exclusion, i.e., genuine beneficiaries get left out.
  • Such errors go unrecorded and people continue to be left out.
  • It is in some of these contexts that strengthening an existing universal programme such as the MGNREGA would have been a prudent move instead of introducing a hasty targeted cash transfer programme.

Lessons to be learned from the MGNREGA implementation

  • The Agriculture Ministry’s letter states that “funds will be electronically transferred to the beneficiary’s bank account by Government of India through State Notional Account on a pattern similar to MGNREGS”.
  • There are important lessons to be learned from the MGNREGA implementation.
  • The Centre has frequently tinkered with the wage payments system in the MGNREGA.
  • It’s creditable that timely generation of pay-orders have improved, but contrary to the Centre’s claims, less than a third of the payments were made on time.
  • And in contempt of the Supreme Court orders, the Centre alone has been causing a delay of more than 50 days in disbursing wages.

Field realities: hurried bureaucratic reorientation on the ground

  • Moreover, repeated changes in processes result in a hurried bureaucratic reorientation on the ground, and much chaos among workers and field functionaries alike.
  • Field functionaries are pushed to meet stiff targets.
  • Being short-staffed and inadequately trained, this results in many technical and unforeseen errors.

Aadhaar hastily implementation for the MGNREGA

  • A case in point is the rushed manner in which Aadhaar has been implemented for the MGNREGA.
  • Several MGNREGA payments have been rejected, diverted, or frozen as a consequence.
  • In the last four years alone, more than ₹1,300 crore of the MGNREGS wage payments have been rejected due to technical errors such as incorrect account numbers or faulty Aadhaar mapping.
  • There have been no clear national guidelines to rectify these.

MGNREGS payments getting diverted

  • There are numerous cases of MGNREGS payments getting diverted to Airtel wallets and ICICI bank accounts.
  • In a recently concluded survey on common service centres in Jharkhand for Aadhaar-based payments, it was found that 42% of the biometric authentications failed in the first attempt, compelling them to come later.
  • This continued harassment faced by people would have been a more humane question to address rather than brushing them aside as “teething problems” and build a new scheme on similar shaky platforms.


  • The success of the PM-KISAN is contingent on there being reliable digital land records and reliable rural banking infrastructure, which are both are questionable.
  • While ₹75,000 crore has been earmarked for this scheme, the MGNREGA continues to be pushed to a severe crisis.
  • The MGNREGA allocation for 2019-20 is ₹60,000 crore, lower than the revised budget of ₹61,084 crore in 2018-19.
  • In the last four years, on an average, around 20% of the Budget allocation has been unpaid pending payments from previous years.
  • Thus, subtracting the pending liabilities, in real terms, the Budget allocation has been lower than 2010-11.
  • Despite a letter to the Prime Minister by citizens and MPs in January 2019, (as of February 8) all MGNREGA funds have been exhausted.
  • While the country stares at an impending drought, workers languish in unemployment.

MGNREGA not a panacea for all

  • The MGNREGA is neither an income support programme nor just an asset creation programme.
  • It is a labour programme meant to strengthen participatory democracy through community works.
  • It is a legislative mechanism to strengthen the constitutional principle of the right to life.
  • That the MGNREGA works have demonstrably strong multiplier effects are yet another reason to improve its implementation.
  • Despite all this, the MGNREGA wage rates in 18 States have been kept lower than the States’ minimum agricultural wage rates.
  • This acts as a deterrent for the landless.
  • Yet, work demand has been 33% more than the employment provided this year — underscoring the desperation to work.

Way Forward

  • By routinely under-funding this Act, the present government continues to undermine the constitutional guarantee.
  • In an employment programme, adequacy of fund allocation and respectable wages are crucial, so meaningless claims of “highest ever allocation” and other dubious claims are unhealthy for democracy.
  • The Central government should focus on improving the existing universal infrastructure of the MGNREGA before plunging into a programme pretending to augment farmers’ income.


[op-ed snap] Fabrication and falsification


Mains Paper 2: Social Justice|Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out oftheir design and implementation.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of MGNREGA.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the gross violation in the implementation of MGNREGA.


  • A recent study have found that data manipulation in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is leading to gross violations in its implementation.


  • At present, crores of people in India are struggling to navigate a host of vulnerabilities to eke out a living.
  • A lack of dignified employment, non-payment of adequate wages on time and insufficient food mean that a poor family remain in a dicey situation and staring at starvation.


  • In recent years, there have been at least 74 reported starvation deaths, with 60 cases having occurred in the last two years across parts of India; a lot of them have been in Jharkhand.
  • Based on a directive by the Union Ministry of Rural Development, the Jharkhand government issued a report on 18 deaths.
  • Hastily produced and in insensitive language, the report concludes that none of these deaths was due to starvation or connected to MGNREGA — a lazy, convenient denial of any correlation.
  • If implemented the proper way, MGNREGA, among other measures, can go a long way in improving the life and the livelihoods of poor.
  • The governments in the State and Centre are demonstrating alarming indifference in this matter and is covering up realities by curating information to suit its false narrative.
  • Such curation starts from suppressing information at the source, to deliberately manipulating and obfuscating data to perpetrate falsehoods.

How the manipulation of information is leading to Ethical and Legal violations?

  • The MGNREGA is a demand-driven programme, i.e., work must be provided within 15 days of demanding work failing which the Centre must pay an unemployment allowance (UA).
  • A UA report is generated but rarely implemented.
  • Numerous ground reports across the country suggest that because of a funds crunch, field functionaries do not even enter the work demanded by labourers in the MGNREGA Management Information System (MIS).
  • This is information suppression at the source.
  • Lack of offline alternatives to capture work demand from labourers means that data on the MIS are being treated as the gospel truth.
  • Even this under-registered demand is being dishonoured by the government.
  • Although work demand data (in person days) and employment-generated data are available at a panchayat level, aggregate data at the national level are only presented for employment generated.
  • Thus, under-registered national demand is captured but intentionally not reported.
  • By doing this, the Central government is trying to hide its violation of the extent of under-provision of work.

Key findings of the study

  • To estimate the extent of under-provision,work demand and employment generated for over 5,700 panchayats across 20 States (for 2017-18 and the first three quarters of 2018-19) was analysed.
  • It was found that this year, the employment generated was about 33% lower than the registered work demand, and last year, about 30% lower.
  • If this large-sample trend holds true for the country, then a conservative minimal allocation required this year is about ₹85,000 crore.
  • After 99% of the original allocation got exhausted earlier this month, 250 Members of Parliament and citizens wrote to the Prime Minister, following which the Centre’s revised allocation now stands at a paltry ₹61,084 crore.
  • Despite this revision, 16 States still show a negative balance which shows the continued lack of funds.
  • Further, the Centre’s oft-repeated claims of the “highest ever allocation” are dubious and meaningless because if the allocation does not honour work demand, as is the case here, it is a violation of the Act.

Government’s manipulation of data causing more problem

  • Contrary to the Central government’s claims of there being more than 90% payments on time, the study found of more than 9 million transactions that only 21% payments were made on time in 2016-17.The trend continued in 2017-18.
  • Further, the Central government alone was causing an average delay of over 50 days in the disbursement of wages to labourers.
  • The mandate is to pay wages within 15 days else workers are entitled to a delay compensation.
  • While this delay by the Central government (called stage 2 delays) is captured in the system, it is intentionally suppressed to avoid paying delay compensation which is another violation of the Act.

A case of insensitivity

  • The Union Ministry of Finance in Aug,2017 acknowledged the accuracy of the study’s findings and stated that delays in payments were directly linked to lack of “[un]availability of funds”.
  • This glaring lacuna was argued in the Supreme Court in a recent PIL (Swaraj Abhiyan vs. Union of India) where the judgement categorically stated: “The wages due to the worker in terms of Stage 2 above must be transferred immediately and the payment made to the worker forthwith failing which the prescribed compensation would have to be paid.
  • The Central Government cannot be seen to shy away from its responsibility… The State Governments and Union Territory Administrations may be at fault, but that does not absolve the Central Government of its duty”.
  • In court, the Central government, agreed to calculate Stage 2 delays, and pay compensation, but the judgement (dated May 18, 2018) has still not been implemented.
  • This not only reflects contempt of court by the Central government but is also an insensitive assault on people and a deliberate hiding of the truth.
  • In the process, countless lives are getting silently buried in fabricated statistics.

Way Forward

  • Such falsification and a manipulation of information by the government is increasing starvation and agrarian distress in India, and isleading to a gross violation of the MGNREG Act.
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